(after “ode to rats” by Elizabeth Acevedo) because you were the one that did not prove them wrong, did not split the chrysalis in one try, did not emerge a fully-realized being: the butterfly after the caterpillar, the swan after the duckling, the rainbow after the rain. because you had to grow up without the glow-up. the lucky ones are all fluorescent, meaning that their bodies can swallow black light and spit it back out into sparkle - neon green, hot pink, firetruck red, a pride of colors soaring through the June sky. at this sight the little girl in the park screams with glee and her dad burrows his frow, wonders out loud i don’t have a problem with them but i don’t get why they need to be so in-our-face about this. from the shadows you watch your brethren fly, wondering why it is that with each year you swallow your body only grows heavier. what if they lied to us? what if for you, it never gets better? or what if you were made not to be a light fluttering thing but a crater in the earth? this is what you know to do: to see a pit and crawl for cover. see a hole where a bullet-point body is supposed to go. fill a cavity with the closest thing to bone because you know some of our people did not survive long enough to write this chapter of the story; crushed under the crunch of a careless boot or shrivelled under the watch of time. and still they ask you: why don’t you fly, child? how will you ever complete this life cycle if you don’t shed this old skin and fly? you don’t respond, but in your head you think about how some caterpillars choose not to hang by a silken thread but to burrow deep below the ground before their transformation. there’s your answer: to make your home in the places people bury you to die. to live on this earth, this hostile earth, this kind earth: a blessing stuck sweaty to your skin, a color worn on the inside of your ribcage. you do not know how to fly yet but you know how to sit still, how to stand guard, how to pull every scrap of love so tight to your body that there is now a black hole where your heart used to be - you better put gravity in its place, dead thing suck the rain out of the air, dead thing let your people fly let them glow in the dark and pray that in another life another place you too will join them a cocoon unfurling a new color emerging. ARTIST STATEMENT: This poem explores the topic of being queer in a non-affirming family. I do not have the same “coming out” story that many gay people have: I have taken most of my life to accept and love myself, and although I now have many friends and loved ones who accept me as I am, I struggle at home because my birth family holds very homophobic ideas and beliefs (I have never told them that I am queer). I am still proud of who I am, even if I can’t share it with everyone, and I want people to know that their journey and their identity are still important even if they can’t “come out” the same way other people can come out.